Tag Archives: spanish prepositions

Spanish Prepositions: Possession and Properties

In other words: whose is it and what is it made of?

Spanish, like English, has a limited number of prepositions conveying information of the sort “from, of, to, at, for, with, toward” and so on. The problem for the learner is that these terms do not have a one-to-one correspondence from one language to the other. Today’s topic is the preposition de in two of its uses.

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De has many functions. First, we’ll show how to use it to indicate possession. In English, when something belongs to someone, the owner is indicated by adding ‘s. (Of course no sound is signaled by the written apostrophe, which is a large literacy problem!)

  • Lulu’s doll
  • the boy’s bike
  • Mr. Smith’s job

This even works for inanimate possessors:

  • the item’s price
  • the book’s cover

In English, if the possessor is something inanimate, the full prepositional phrase tends to be used for it unless the possessor is being emphasized. For example, you would probably say:

The color of the paint is too dark for this room.

But you might say:

The paint’s color clashes with the sofa’s color.

However, in Spanish, the possessor is always expressed by de + noun phrase.

la muñeca de Lulu — Lulu's doll
la bicicleta del niño — the boy's bicycle
el trabajo del señor Smith — Mr. Smith's job
el precio del artículo — the item's price
el forro del libro — the book's cover

Note that del is a contraction of de + el “of the”. De la remain separate words used if the owner is a feminine gender noun.

el color de la pintura — the paint's color
la manga de la chaqueta — the jacket's sleeve.

Another use of de, which may be useful to the Spanish learner who is going shopping or traveling, is to express the name of the material from which something is made.

el suéter de lana — the wool sweater
una pulsera de oro — a gold bracelet
unos aretes de plata — some silver earrings
las ollas de barro — the clay pots
una chaqueta de cuero — a leather jacket

Note that in this use of de, corresponding to “of”, there is no article before the noun specifying the material of which something is made.

Now that you can answer the questions:

¿De quién es? — Whose is it?
¿De qué está hecho? — Of what is it made?

…let’s try some mini-dialogues:

Q: ¿De quién es esta chaqueta? — Whose is this jacket?
A: La chaqueta de cuero es de Juan. La de lana es de Antonio. — The leather jacket is Juan's. The wool one is Antonio's.

Q: ¿Qué clase de joyería desea ver, señorita? — What sort of jewelry would you like to see, Miss?
A: Quisiera ver las pulseras y los aretes de plata por favor. — I would like to see the silver bracelets and earrings, please.

Q: ¿Estos platos son de barro o de porcelana, señor? — Are these earthenware or porcelain plates, sir?
A: Los platos son de porcelana y los plateles son de barro muy fino. — The plates are of porcelain and the platters are of very fine earthenware.

Q: ¿De qué son las canastas? — What are the baskets (made) of?
A: Algunas son de totora y otras son de mimbre. — Some are of reed and others are of wicker.

Espero que todo esto es…¡de utilidad!

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